April 10, 2008

TESOL 2008 - NYC

I now teach at the very school where I learned English: Casa Thomas Jefferson, in Brasília, Brazil. I have never lived abroad and I use to tell my students that all my English is Casa Thomas Jefferson English, which they find surprising. You see, students (and many teachers!) in EFL contexts have this (sad) belief that you can only master a language if you learn it in the country where it is spoken, and I have always been proud to be a living testimony of the contrary. I like to talk about strategies with my students (especially advanced, and pre-Michigan and pre-TOEFL ones), and every time I start talking about it, I like to say that it is totally possible to be fully competent in a language even learning it in Brazil, as long as you put the right amount of effort into it.

Nevertheless, I know that, even though living abroad is not the only way to acquire a foreign language, having experiences abroad can only add to a teacher's knowledge, maturity and expertise. Well, I still haven't lived abroad (not yet!), but Casa Thomas Jefferson (CTJ) has helped me have an 8-day experience in New York City by providing me with a grant to attend the 42nd TESOL Convention.
The trip had two big positive points for me:

1. Interacting with people in New York City has made me learn a few new words, taste a few new dishes, listen to different accents and reflect upon some of our practices. The first reflection that took my mind was the concept of competence. I have already read a lot about this concept (Noam Chomsky, Dell Hymes, Michael Canale, Michael Canale and Merill Swain, Lyle Bachman, Almeida Filho, Allan Davis - to mention a few), but walking in the streets of New York a couple of days before the convention, and talking to an Egyptian taxi driver, buying hot dogs from a Pakistani guy, having a Russian waitress wait our table, or checking in at the hostel with a Puerto Rican man (not to mention the other nationalities staying in the hostel...) has made me reflect again about what communicative competence really means. Let's take pronunciation as an example: I love pronunciation, I am writing my master's dissertation about pronunciation teaching, and I believe I have good pronunciation, at least better than that of all those people I mentioned before. However, they all communicate perfectly! With their accents, or sometimes even wrong pronunciation, they can all live and work in the United States and have far more interactions with native speakers (thus getting a lot of input and consequently learning more words and expressions) than I do. Even in the convention this question sprang to my mind again, when I listened to Dr Suresh Canagarajah give this amazing talk but saying things like deve'lopment, which we so frequently correct in our Brazilian students' oral production. Of course I'm not insane (or naive) enough as to say that because of all this we shouldn't worry about pronunciation. I'm just glad that I could experience firsthand what I have read in so many papers: that communicative competence has many aspects, and what makes a speaker competent is a comprehensive, balanced and principled use of all features of communicative competence.

Another reflection that came to my mind is how close we, EFL teachers, are to teaching what is actually used in real life situations. Having an informal conversation with my friend Carla Arena,
we both agreed that there are some things that text books present and that are not the most common or most frequent linguistic sample used in real life. She has been living in Key West for almost two years and told me that she noticed that people used much more phrases like "take care", "have a good day", "see ya" or "have a good one" (which I have never seen in text books) when she was leaving a place than "good-bye" or "bye", which are so abundant in our classes.

Among the many amazing experiences, I just have to write about this incredible one: on Tuesday, April 1, I was in a hurry, a bit late to meet some friends for dinner, but in the middle of my running I just had to stop to listen to this excellent vocal trio singing in the Grand Central Station:

2- The convention was amazing. I was able to attend lots of interesting, insightful and resourceful presentations that will help me both in my CALL function at CTJ and in the writing of my master's dissertation. Listening to some people whose work I have been reading (like Elaine Tarone and Suresh Canagarajah) was very encouraging; meeting some of the Webheads in Action f2f for the first time was a blast; and simply walking in those hallways and knowing that there were close to 10,000 language teachers in that place willing to enhance their teaching was absolutely thrilling. I also had the chance to present a project my colleague (and coordinator of CTJ) Isabela and I carried out last year about "blogging the writing process" in the Electronic Village Fair.

These are just a few words to exemplify what I have gained from enjoying every single minute of my first experience abroad. The truth is that I could write about growing as a language teacher from the simple things I did, as analyzing the subway map to choose my routes, to the excellent opportunities I had, as listening to renowned scholars in my area.

Check out my New York Albuns:

NYC + CTJ and Webheads

NYC - Sightseeing

NYC - Museums


Teresa Almeida d'Eça said...

Dear Ronaldo,
It was a "blast" meeting you in NYC and a complete surprise to see you and Robson in the middle of a very crowded Times Square, Saturday night at about 9pm. It was lovely to hear your "Oi, Teresa!" out of the blue and then see your captivating and warm smile.
I love your post about your NYC experiences, their use for your work and diss., and the Webheads experience. It's unforgettable, isn't it?
Beijinhos, Teresa

Unknown said...

Dear Ronaldo,

It was just fantastic to share ideas with you and have lots of fun with the groups we are passionate about, the Webheads and the CTJ Team. We all learned a lot, didn't we? Just like you, Suresh's keynote was one that caused an impression on me, and I still want to get back to my notes and his slideshow to aprehend even more from his experience. Being in NY with all of you was simply amazing, wasn't it? I already miss it.

Nina Liakos said...

Hi Ronaldo! I've just read your post about New York, watched the video of the great a cappella trio, and looked at the photos in the first 2 albums. You really managed to see a lot in the time that you were there! I am very impressed! You are a good photographer, too, and New York looked beautiful through your camera lens. I enjoyed seeing your smiling face in many of the photos--it's obvious you were having a good time!

I will check out the museum album later--it's late and I am going to bed!



Ronaldo Lima Jr. said...

Teresa, it was great meeting you in NYC and I hope we manage to have other f2f meetings soon! Maybe in Portugal...

Ronaldo Lima Jr. said...

Yes, Carla, being in NYC with so many interesting was amazing. I definitely learned a lot and it was great to go out and have some good laughs with you.

Ronaldo Lima Jr. said...

Well, Nina, I have one little phrase for you:

thank you so very much!

Before NYC:Thank you for setting up the blog and wiki webheads used to get orgazined. Also, thank you for the recommendations you gave me about New York.

During NYC: it was great meeting you (you're sooooo sweet), thank you for the Smithsonian Institution pencil, I use it everyday and it reminds me of this great experience; and thank you for being so supportive and attending my EV Fair presentation.

After NYC: thank you for visiting my blog and spending so much time here. I wrote so much and posted a video and three albums, so I imagined nobody would read and explore everything, but you did! And thanks for the compliments about the pictures, I really like looking at and taking pictures, but it's all amateur work. I plan to take some photography course eventually (when I begin teaching less - never? =))

See you in cyberspace and hope to see you f2f again soon!

Unknown said...

Dear Ronaldo,
I'm glad to know that you had an enriching academic and cultural experience in New York. It was a pleasure to travel with you and present our project at the EV fair. Thank you for doing it!

Ronaldo Lima Jr. said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, Isabela. I too thought it was a real pleasure to travel and present at the EV Fair with you.